Two train drivers talked with Solidarity about the latest in the long-running Driver Only Operation dispute, where the RMT union is taking action against threats to guards’ jobs.
As far as we know, the Merseyrail offer is not final. We’re not even sure why it’s been publicly released.
Negotiations are still ongoing. The ACAS process was supposed to be confidential, and this breaches that.
I wouldn’t vote for the offer. It accepts a three-year pay freeze for guards, and makes cleaners redundant (though it promises no compulsory redundancies), in order to finance retaining the guard as a safety-critical job, and transferring one of the duties currently done by cleaners to the guards.
Is the retention of guards’ jobs permanent? Only for the life of the franchise.
The union action has been by far at its strongest and most unified on Merseyrail; it has been unique in that almost none of the drivers have crossed the picket line.
On Merseyrail there is a direct line of promotion from guard to driver, which doesn’t exist on any other franchise, and you can’t become a Merseyrail driver without having been a Merseyrail guard. But the unity is down to union efforts too: it hasn’t always been that strong on Merseyrail.
As for the other Train Operating Companies: in Scotland there is no issue. There is some Driver Only Operation, but no more immediately planned. On the East Coast mainline, drivers release doors, and the guards do the rest of the job: the union is satisfied.
On Greater Anglia, the same. After a decision by the Welsh Assembly, Arriva Trains Wales is keeping guards. On Cross Country and East Midlands Trains, there is no live issue. Great Western are introducing the same new rolling stock as the East Coast mainline: there’s no dispute there.
The dispute is on South West Rail and Northern Rail. On South West Rail RMT has declared strikes for all the Saturdays in November. On Northern Rail we have moved to a weekly RMT strike every Saturday, at least until there is a settlement on Merseyrail which we can hope to get copied elsewhere.
The Northern Rail strikes are well-supported and stop probably 70% of the trains. But almost all drivers who are members of Aslef [a drivers-only union, unlike the RMT which covers all rail grades] — which means, almost all drivers — cross the picket lines.
The disruption to services is severe. The only reason why Northern Rail is not a national joke like Southern Rail is that the impact is bigger on Southern. Northern Rail bosses are sheltered to some extent because they are doing the dirty work for transport minister Chris Grayling.
On Southern Rail the special franchise set-up mean that the government covered all the revenue the company lost through strikes. It is not the same on Northern Rail. But it is not clear how much the company is losing financially from the strikes.
We want the RMT to make proper preparation to sustain strikes for as along as they’re likely to be needed to run for, and to shame Aslef into not crossing the picket lines. The labour movement should run a solidarity campaign to protect safety on the railways and should draw Aslef into it.
The RMT should encourage proper picketing. At present the pickets do not even approach drivers directly to ask them not to cross. That is true whether or not there are officials on the picket lines — which is rare — and despite the police presence on the picket lines being only occasional and low-key.
Drivers are legally covered against repercussions if they refuse to cross the picket lines, even if they don’t join RMT. No drivers have been faced discipline for refusing to cross.
RMT is not paying strike pay as such, just occasional lump sums to strikers. The strikers are settling into a rhythm, for now, making up for strike days by working extra hours on rest days, but the RMT should levy the other members of the union to support this dispute.
If the RMT had affiliated to the Labour Party, it could have put more pressure on Aslef over this dispute. We lost a chance there.
Security joins cleaners in dispute at MoJ
Security guards and receptionists at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), members of United Voices of the World union (UVW), are currently being balloted for strikes.
If they vote yes they will be joining with cleaners to demand a Living Wage, and parity of sick pay and annual leave allowance with the Ministry of Justice’s civil servants. This move follows three strike days taken by MoJ cleaners in early August.
UVW are expecting a vote 100% in favour of strike action, across the membership representing just shy of 100% of the workforce. The ballot will close on 21 November, and the first strike days are planned to take place before the end of the year.
The PCS branch at the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is also balloting its outsourced workers.
UVW members at the Ministry of Justice have voted to co-ordinate their strikes with PCS members at BEIS, which between the two workplaces could see over 100 workers walk out.
Teachers’ pay fight: why only in Scotland?
Scottish teachers marched in Glasgow on 27 October demanding an austerity-busting 10% pay rise.
30,000 attended the march organised by the Educational Institute of Scotland (the Scottish teachers’ union), excellent numbers considering there are around 50,000 teachers in Scotland.
The campaign Scottish teachers are waging is inspirational, but school workers might wonder how inspired our leadership have been here in England and Wales. National Education Union Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney praised the fight for a 10% pay rise in Scotland, but from a posture of begging that the 3.5% pay rise offered in England and Wales should be fully funded and apply to all teachers.
We voted to campaign for a 5% pay rise, but as soon as the pay review body recommend a 3.5% pay rise Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted welcomed it.
The 5% demand was junked and we were treated to Dave Harvey, exec member for outer London, pouring cold water on any potential fight and telling us that “if there is a mood for action in schools then we would proceed to an indicative ballot to test the water for industrial action”.
The lead-from-the-back bureaucrat-speak here needs unpicking a bit. Seeing the union executive’s role as organising a ballot to test the waters is a way of placing the blame on school workers when, seeing as the executive aren’t willing to fight, they aren’t inspired to turn out in great enough numbers to vote for action.
The executive is elected to carry out the will of conference, not to find ways to weasel out of a promise for action over a 5% pay rise by organising a consultation process for an indicative ballot to show feeling for a ballot on action
Such a process can do nothing but demobilise and disorient workplace activists and members, rather than get us any closer to fighting alongside fellow teachers in Scotland.
• School workers in Workers’ Liberty are promoting a set of motions for next year’s NEU conference, including on pay for teachers and support staff.
More jobs, not fewer
Strike action by nine women working as midday supervisory assistants (dinner ladies) at Ladywood Primary School in Barnsley continues.
The women, all members of Unison, are striking to defend their jobs following a decision by their employer to make them redundant. Having initially called six strike days, they are now on all-out indefinite strike and have struck for 18 days in total so far.
On October 22 they were boosted when the threatened workers were joined by their colleagues at the school who work as Teaching Assistants. The head teacher had planned to direct the TAs to take over the lunchtime supervision normally carried out by the lunchtime staff. Quite rightly the TAs refused and joined the action.
The school has sought to justify the redundancies by claiming that the nine women don’t have the skills to carry out their supervision duties. That’s clearly not a view shared by their workmates or the parents and community who rely on them.
Not only have the TAs joined the action but over 300 parents and members of the community have signed a petition pushing for the head to go instead. Around 1000 have signed a Unison petition demanding the withdrawal of the redundancies.
Ladywood Primary serves the ex-mining community of Grimethorpe.
That community needs more jobs not fewer, and the fight of these workers should be fully supported by the whole of the local labour and trade union movement and by the local Labour council.